The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Silencing the Opposition: Return of the Fairness Doctrine?

Newsweek's Howard Fineman has republished a Democratic Party press release... er, written a fine column on efforts to reinstate the so-called "fairness" doctrine. This is the rule that allows the government to intimidate and limit broadcast opinion in the name of promoting "fairness" over the "public" airwaves.

In the last campaign, there was a great deal of talk in Democratic Party circles about the dangers of "one party rule." To their credit, however, Republicans never had so much gall as to make such a blatantly partisan attack on Democratic media. But as Fineman's column makes clear, this is nothing but a partisan effort to silence opposition. That the three major networks, plus CNN and MSNBC, plus NPR, plus most daily papers lean to the left is not enough - the left must silence talk radio, and Fox News is assuredly not far behind.

Both the Kennedy and Nixon administrations used the fairness doctrine to harass political opponents. As former FCC Chairman James Quello put it, "The fairness doctrine doesn't belong in a country that's dedicated to freedom of the press and freedom of speech." This article is a few years old but in short order demonstrates the perniciousness of the doctrine. A quick excerpt:
As defined by proponents of the doctrine, "fairness" apparently means that each broadcaster must offer air time to anyone with a controversial view. Since it is impossible for every station to be monitored constantly, FCC regulators would arbitrarily determine what "fair access" is, and who is entitled to it, through selective enforcement. This, of course, puts immense power into the hands of federal regulators. ...

...[W]ith the threat of potential FCC retaliation for perceived lack of compliance, most broadcasters would be more reluctant to air their own opinions because it might require them to air alternative perspectives that their audience does not want to hear.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Great Challenge of Our Time

Does it seem that Americans increasingly want to turn their heads away from Islamic radicalism, the greatest threat of our times? Nearly six years after 9/11, the West still seems unsure of how to respond.

This article by Chris Hitchens is must reading. Take special note of what Hitchens reports is being taught in mainstream mosques.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Oprah, Obama and "Undue" Influence

For the first time ever, Oprah Winfrey has endorsed a candidate for political office, Barack Obama. I've got no beef with Oprah or Obama, the former of whom I never watch, the latter of whom seems to be a intriguing new face on the political scene, a vessel into which many hopes and ambitions are being poured. Maybe he is the guy to shake a ridiculously prosperous America from whatever dolldrums have us in such a funk.

But Paul Sherman of the Center for Competitive Politics asks a good question: "Where are the 'reformers' to rescue us from Oprah's undue influence on the political process?"

Sherman writes:
Reformers intent on eliminating private money from politics [have] adopt[ed] an expansive definition of 'corruption.' They have defined the term downward, away from quid pro quo and towards 'influence' and 'access.' But this has painted them into a logical corner, because under this redefinition influential endorsements begin to look more and more like a source of 'corruption.' ...

[A] common reform complaint about monetary contributions was that, at the end of the day, it was the large contributor whose phone calls were being returned. Following this valuable endorsement, is there any chance that Barack Obama won't be returning Oprah's phone calls? What makes her influence more deserving of protection than, say, an unknown professional with money to spend?

This is a good question indeed. Note that if Oprah wanted to contribute $5000 to Obama, it would violate the law. But if she wants to give Obama a million dollars value in TV time and endorsements, that is perfectly legal. Is this a good idea? Says Sherman:
There may be a relatively small percentage of the population that can give $2,300 to a political candidate, but there's only one "most influential woman in the world."

Equality, reform style.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Same Ole Same Ole Obama

Today Bloomberg has up a puff piece on Barack Obama's economic policy team. The article opens with this hard-hitting, objective paragraph:
Senator Barack Obama portrays himself as a new kind of leader who transcends conventional politics. Judging by the economists he has enlisted in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, he may just be.

In the second paragraph, we learn that they are "up-and-coming-academics... with a fondness for backing innovative solutions to the nation's problems." Hey, my heart is already atwitter. Next, Alan Blinder is trotted out to reveal "They bring to the campaign some fresh thought on approaches that are non-status quo." We learn that they are "top-notch" and that their solutions "can help us get past ideological battles." From one of the economic advisors himself we learn that Obama, "wants to get beyond the normal debate between A and B, to try to dream up things that are different and better." Finally, a change from candidates such as John Edwards and Mitt Romney, dreaming up plans that are the same, only worse. This is a new strategy! And so on goes Bloomberg, at some length.

The Centerman wonders what story this is worth to the Obama campaign. $50,000? $75,000? $250,000? More? Lots more?

When all is said and done, the proposals don't sound all that new. Let's see... they want the federal government to pick up automakers health care and pension costs - subsidies for industry, an idea at least as old as Lee Ioccoca and the Chrysler bailout, and something every manufacturers association longs for - but to link these subsidies to more greater investment in "fuel efficient vehicles." Fuel efficient vehicles? Whoa, where did that come from? These guys are fresh!

To put it another way, Obama wants to take over the auto and health care industries in one fell swoop.

But Obama's health plans go further.
[He] has tried to go beyond the long-running debate between advocates of a government-run ``single-payer'' system and proponents of a market-driven approach based on health savings accounts for consumers.

Under a pay-for-performance system devised by [Obama advisor] Cutler, doctors would be reimbursed not for the services they provide but for the improvements they make to patients' health. Patients would be encouraged to take better care of themselves through preventive care and comparison shopping for medical cost savings.

Oh, I love that. A government run health plan in which my doctor gets paid or not by the government based on my personal health habits. Isn't the way to comparison shopping easy - expanded personal health accounts, with less reliance on government or employers to pick up the tab? I don't quite know how you get consumers to comparison shop costs when they don't pay the bill directly. But less reliance on third party payers is anathema to the Democratic Party, so Obama's folks are dreaming up gimmicks that probably can't work.

Maybe I've just grown cynical. Perhaps there really are no truly new solutions to our various problems. But man, what does a candidate have to do to get such coverage? Poor Hillary Clinton - her health plan never had it so good. Is there a fairness doctrine anyplace for Obama's rivals?

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